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Tooreen proud to fly the Mayo hurling flag

Tooreen won the 2017 Connacht Intermediate Club Hurling Championship.

Tooreen won the 2017 Connacht Intermediate Club Hurling Championship.

By Cian O’Connell

In a small pocket of Mayo, hurling continues to matter deeply and it is why Saturday’s trip to the Gaelic Grounds means so much to Tooreen.

The first Mayo club to perform at the All Ireland Intermediate Semi-Final stage, these are splendid times for Tooreen, a decorated outfit in the county.

Ballyragget bring a talented team to the Limerick venue, but Tooreen’s Connacht adventure ensures they will also travel loaded with hope.

Tooreen recaptured the Mayo crown for the first time since 2013 and momentum has been generated.

“We hadn't won one before that for a number of years as well which is kind of unusual for Tooreen,” Chairman Dom Greally says.

“At one stage we were winning most of the County titles, we did a 10 in a row, a seven in a row, and a five in a row. We were never too long off winning, but for the past number of years we had only won one in eight or nine years. It is great to be back.”

Greally explains how have won 28 Mayo crowns since 1966. “There is a love of hurling in this pocket of Mayo. Since the club was formed just over 60 years ago it has grown and grown.

"Now you see second generation lads playing for the club that their fathers played for and at this stage it is bred into the lads from around Tooreen.

“We are lucky enough that we get lads from outside the Tooreen area to play with us, they are just as passionate about it too. It is a love of the game.”

Greally’s own playing career was stuffed with success when the Tooreen flag was usually planted on top of the Mayo game.

Fergal Boland represented Mayo in the 2017 Connacht Senior Football Championship.

Fergal Boland represented Mayo in the 2017 Connacht Senior Football Championship.

“I was lucky enough to play at a time when Tooreen were winning most County titles,” Greally quietly admits.

“I myself played in 22 County Finals, I won 18, I was lucky in a sense that I came along at that time. When we won the County then we went into the Connacht Senior, there was no Intermediate at the time so we would have played the likes of Athenry, Sarsfields, Clarinbridge, all those teams.”

There was no Intermediate Championship then, but Greally believes Tooreen would have been a highly competitive outfit at that level in the west.

“We would love to think so,” Greally replies. “At the time we thought we had a pretty good team, we had the likes of Joe Henry at his peak. It would have been lovely to see, we will never know. It would have been lovely to have that opportunity.”

With only four senior clubs in Mayo, Tooreen are happy to travel for challenge matches. “Yeah, we would play a good few in Galway,” Greally reveals.

“We are fortunate where we are situated in Tooreen we are in the very east of Mayo so we are touching Galway and Roscommon, in that little pocket.

“It is not too far for us to travel to any part of Roscommon or Galway for a challenge match. We appreciate the help we have got from Galway clubs, they have accommodated us with games.

“I suppose at this stage the name of Tooreen has a good reputation in Galway, particularly after what has gone on last year it will probably be easier to get challenge matches.”

David Kenny and Fergal Boland won the All Ireland Under 21 Championship with Mayo in 2016.

David Kenny and Fergal Boland won the All Ireland Under 21 Championship with Mayo in 2016.

That is most certainly the case considering accomplished performers such as Fergal Boland and David Kenny have earned glory for underage Mayo teams in both codes. Talented performers have been manufactured in Tooreen for decades.

A rivalry with Ballyhaunis exists, but there is an underlying respect between the clubs, who have contested the last 10 Mayo deciders. “We are just six miles down the road from Ballyhaunis,” Greally states.

“When Ballyhaunis set out originally they played with Tooreen until they formed their own club maybe around 20 years ago.

“Our secondary school is Ballyhaunis Community School so the lads know each other pretty well. There is a great rivalry, but it is a very healthy rivalry. On the field it is passionate, it is hard and it is fair. Off the field the lads get on well, they play for Mayo together so there is no problem.”

Aghamore is where the bulk of Tooreen’s hurlers play Gaelic Football. “The majority of the Tooreen lads play for Aghamore,” Greally acknowledges. “That would be our football club, Tooreen is in the parish of Aghamore.

“Most of the lads play football for Aghamore, but we are lucky that we have the likes of Seanie Regan, who plays for Ballina Stephenites and Ciaran Charlton, who plays for Kiltimagh.

“We've a good relationship with Aghamore, that is true, when you have such a big overlap the clubs have to work together. The senior team managements work well together, they are working with the same group of players, but aren't overworking them at the same time.”

This weekend’s contest will be revealing, but Tooreen’s willingness to graft remains a constant. To hurl against a club from Kilkenny at such an advanced stage of the competition is a clear sign of the progress Tooreen have made.

Can Tooreen take another step towards Croke Park?